By: Rick Hernandez
“Everyday, let us make a visit of charity to Purgatory, and this act of charity will make us more vigilant and faithful in the service of God." - St. Peter Julian Eymard
For many years, I have heard people try to explain charity. The concept of charity, in modern society, has come to mean giving to the less fortunate, as in giving money to help the needy. It is crucial to provide monetary support to the poor, but we are called to more.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines “charity” as “the theological virtue by which we love God above all things for His own sake, and our neighbor as ourselves for the love of God.” To love as God loves is more than just giving money to the needy...
Let me share a little story.
Not too long ago, I was working for a big bank in Jersey City, NJ. Jersey City is that kind of place where the old and the new clash daily. There are the latest, large, hip apartment buildings soaring 40 floors high next to simple and humble brownstone houses from the last two centuries. The rich and the poor mixing, but not always in perfect harmony.
Often, my coworkers and I would go out to lunch to the many convenient restaurants in the area. It was easy and fun to do that. Every day I would walk by the little park and the ABC store next to our office and see this man sitting outside in temperatures around 30 degrees Fahrenheit and bundled up in an old trench coat. The brown bag in his hand hinted at why he was always there, and his “thousand yards” stare gave me pause whenever I saw him. I would always say “Good Morning” to this man, same as I did everyone else I met, almost in automatic mode with no real thought behind it, and I would receive no reaction whatsoever from him. Yet this one day, for some reason, I really looked into this man’s eyes when I said my greeting, and I saw him react to me for the first time. He answered back with a greeting of his own; I stopped and asked him his name, “George. George is my name”. “Nice to meet you, George,” and I told him my name. I asked him to make sure to say Hi whenever he saw me around, and then I left.
Over the next six months, I would daily stop on the way to work to say Hi to George. We would speak for a few moments, and I learned about him and his life little by little. Often, I would buy lunch, and we would break bread together in the park.
George was a lawyer, graduated from a respected school of law, and the son of a very well-known and famous lawyer. George married his college sweetheart with opposition from both of their families and moved to Jersey City to get away from all the bickering. In time, George built a thriving law practice and prepared to finally start a family. After trying for a long time, they finally got pregnant! Their happiness was short-lived as his wife was diagnosed with a very aggressive form of cancer. Within a couple of months, both mom and unborn child passed unto the glory of our Lord. The bickering from the two families got worse. George descended into a great depression and turned to alcohol to suppress his pain. Soon after, his law practice failed. George lost his business, cars, home and spent all his time and money on alcohol. Soon he was homeless, sleeping behind the Government Hall, one block from where I met him.
George had spent years living like this, isolated from the world that he believed was causing him pain, trying to be invisible yet unable to let it all go.
In the beginning, I did not say too much in my interactions with George. What I tried to do was to be there, present for him, and I prayed. Little by little, our meetings were changing both of us. I noticed I was more aware of everyone I met. I learned the importance of looking at everyone in the eye and how dignifying it is for someone when you spend a few seconds addressing them directly as if they are the only person in the world at that moment. I felt I was getting more patient and more willing to listen because I understood that people feel validated when they are heard, acknowledging their inherent value as sons and daughters of God. I learned the value of a shared meal with the ones in need, no matter how humble the meal is.
George was changing rapidly. He was drinking less frequently and started standing straighter, speaking more vividly and with greater clarity. He began to get to the shelter at night and wash his clothes. His sense of humor was returning, and it was delightful. Eventually, as George’s heart started healing, he began to talk about returning home. The pain was still there, but there was a sense of longing and a desire to share his pain and life with the other ones that could understand it best, his family.
One day, George was not at his usual spot. I did not find him that day nor any other day after that. I prayed that as his heart was healing, he would go back to his family and heal those wounds too. After another two months, my assignment at the bank was over, and I returned home to Tampa. I have never seen George again, yet this dear man will forever be in my heart. I think about him often.
Like Father Eymard said, visiting purgatory (sitting down with the ones suffering) changes us for the better. It makes us into a better likeness of Christ and helps us build on our charity, the real charity. I sometimes think that the one with the real charity in my story was George. He was the one in pain, who had lost everything, yet he took the time to be with me, emerged from his difficult position in life to engage with me, and taught me to care and love as Christ did. He took my gift of charity and gave it back, through Christ, tenfold.
Father Eymard took care of the poor and indigent in Paris. Mother Teresa took care of the sick and dying in Calcutta. Both of them rested in the presence of the Blessed Sacrament in order to build up their charity, their love. Let us take the opportunity, as we start to build awareness, to do likewise, to increase in our love (Caritas) so that we can go out into the world, and share of ourselves, truly love. May you also find your George.
By: Laura Worhacz
“Mary adored the hidden state of Jesus’ Divinity and Humanity in His Sacrament, veiled that man might not attach himself to the glory and beauty of His person, but should go freely to the Divinity of the Word.” - Saint Peter Julian Eymard (Eymard Library, Volume 7, page 129)
Dearest Eucharistic Family,
In the above excerpt the word hidden seems to be prominent to my thoughts. Saint Peter Julian goes on that we “should go freely to the Divinity of the Word.” The letter of the law is written on the heart and we are asked to lift up our hearts at every celebration of the Eucharist. In the depths of the heart is the hidden life of God within, the place of our souls where we are in relationship with Jesus, freely. The Divinity of God reigns in this place and we are made “right and just”.
The Lenten season is almost upon us; Ash Wednesday is this coming week. What is going through our minds to offer to God? Perhaps our hearts are the place to begin our Lenten offering. Opening up to the Divine life may be an expression of deep soul searching, a place where we see our faults and failures. Releasing the negativity and embracing the positive is transformative. Lord help me to see the good in everything, I mean everything, everything! God is working in all. Jesus has shown us the way to this Divine/Human life. He was tempted; however, He did not sin. Jesus remained hidden in His Father’s love, veiled in the holy will of God. The freedom to choose the good is strengthened by our self-sacrifice. Lent offers us an opportunity to grow in grace, God’s strength.
Today we celebrate the Chair of Saint Peter. We focus not on his martyrdom, but rather on his Seat of Authority. The unity in which St. Peter was called to lead us in is exemplified in his role as Pope. St. Peter was called to build our Church on the foundation (rock) of his hidden life with Jesus. St. Peter’s relationship with Jesus, his love for Jesus, and his commitment to return charity to Jesus, all formed his leadership. May our Lenten season be blessed by the offering of our hearts and an openness to God’s life in us. Let us be receptive and consciously aware of the Divine life in us as we live in the humanity of our Eucharistic lives -- hidden and then seen!
“I have prayed that your own faith may not fail; and once you have turned back, you must strengthen your brothers” (Lk 22:32).
By: Ivonne J. Hernandez
I’ve never been a sporty or outdoor person. As some of you know, I suffer from a progressive neuromuscular condition called Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease (CMT). Although I was born with CMT, it was not until I was 40 years old that I received a diagnosis. Growing up, I just thought I was clumsy, slow and uncoordinated…which I was, but I did not know there was a medical reason for my difficulties. One day, when I was a teenager, my family went on a day trip to El Yunque rain-forest, which we would do every few years. We would usually walk a short distance down a paved path to a picnic shelter area and spend the day grilling and playing games. This day however, someone had the idea that we should go on a hike up the mountain and take in some of the majestic views from high above. My mom’s husband was a big strong guy, and he said he would help me along on the trail. I do not remember all the details, but I have a feeling there was quite a bit of cajoling going on. If I didn’t go, someone would have to stay with me and miss all the fun.
We started going up this trail alongside the mountain and I started to notice the people that were coming down on the opposite direction; their shoes and legs were muddy, and it looked like they had been “through hell”. The path began to narrow and become steep, muddy and slippery. My eyes were on the path one second, and on the precipice below the next. I was having some serious second thoughts about the wisdom of my decision to join this adventure. I expressed my concerns to my fellow travelers but was “encouraged” to keep going… everything was going to be ok. The scariest moments where when there were gaps on the path that we had to step over. I remember inching along, holding on to my mom’s husband’s hand and keeping my back close to the side of the mountain, until we reached a breach that was too big for me to walk over. It required a leap. I remember a hand from the other side inviting me to trust, but I could not. One wrong step, one slip, and I would be dead, so I just froze. Much to everyone’s disappointment, I was not able to be persuaded to conquer my fears that day and we had to turn around.
God reminded me of this memory recently, as I was grappling with fear over a decision I was trying to make. As grown ups in charge of others, we often have to make difficult decisions, decisions that involve serious consequences for us and those we love. And sometimes, in the process of discerning the path to follow, we can feel fear over the unknown, fear of what may happen if we make the wrong choice. But, in my experience, the fear is only one side of the equation. On the other side of the tension is a voice that says: Come, “for I know well the plans I have in mind for you... plans for your welfare and not for woe, so as to give you a future of hope” (Jer 29:11).
As we stand on the edge of the breach, if we look up, we will see God’s hand inviting us to take a leap of faith and trust in Him. “Do not fear: I am with you; do not be anxious: I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my victorious right hand” (Is 41:10). But when we are in that moment of tension, that moment of decision, the fear can be so loud that we find it difficult to listen to the still small voice inside us saying, “Be still and know that I am God” (Ps 46:11). Our eyes remain fixed on the precipice below rather than on the hand above.
That day on our hike through the rain-forest, I let fear control me. I did not trust I had the strength and balance needed to make the leap, or that my mom’s husband would be able to bring me safely to the other side. I missed out on a wonderful experience, and, because of my fears, others missed out on the experience too. Just like the beautiful views that would reward those who persevered along the hike, when God calls, it is because He has something amazing waiting for us on the other side. He who quiets the storm will quiet the storm in our hearts and give us His outstretched hand, inviting us to trust in Him and just take the leap.
By: Rick Hernandez
“How kind is our Sacramental Jesus! He welcomes you at any hour of the day or night. His Love never knows rest. He is always most gentle towards you. When you visit Him, He forgets your sins and speaks only of His joy, His tenderness, and His Love. By the reception He gives to you, one would think He has need of you to make Him happy.” – St. Peter Julian Eymard
I have always been a bit of an anthologist, a collector of stories. Some of my most cherished childhood memories revolve around the times when we had visitors to our household. Even as a young child, I loved to sit at the table and listen to the interactions between my parents and their guests, mainly because these always come with great retellings of the stories of their lives.
Some of these tales were light and funny; some were heavy and sad. Sometimes, deep questions were posed, and that would spur great debate. Other times, strong hurts were exposed, compelling us to empathy and mercy. On occasion, great personal insight was shown. It was a beautiful sense of togetherness.
But beyond all that, what moved me the most, was that these were stories that celebrated life. Our visitors LIVED through these experiences, learned from them, and were now sharing those lessons with us. What wondrous gifts these stories were for us! There were always laughs to be had and tears to be shed when the heart was willing.
Through the retelling of these stories, these dear friends brought us into their inner circle and passed down their hard-earned wisdom to us. They were sharing their life, and by that, they were also sharing who they were. Thought that time shared, we received their gifts of self, time, presence, acknowledgment, and love. As a child, being able to participate at this table acknowledged my dignity as a family member.
Today, when I am at the Eucharistic banquet that is the Mass, I am once again as that young child, watching attentively at this reunion of the elders. In the Liturgy of the Word, the beloved ones break open their life stories, shared with us through Scripture. In fact, the Word Himself, our Lord, breaks open and shares the stories of His public life, as a gift of Grace and Wisdom to the ones genuinely present, that we may grow ever closer to Him who loves us so dearly. In the Liturgy of the Eucharist, Christ, our Lord, raises us to His table and gives us our true dignity as members of this family, the family of God.
He cares for our stories too! We are called to share our experiences with Him in this celebration and unite them in love, to the offering of Our Lord in the Eucharistic Sacrifice. And then we are sent to the world to share the good news!
If we are, to a certain extent, the sum of all of our experiences (including the ones we glean from others), then when we offer those up to our brothers and sisters daily, we are fully emulating Jesus, who gives us everything He is, Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity.
So, next time a dear one sits with us and starts sharing of who they are in their story, let’s listen well and with a willing heart, for that may be a great gift for us. May we, at that and every moment, indeed be Christ to one another. Amen.
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We are Ivonne J. Hernandez, Rick Hernandez and Laura Worhacz, Lay Associates of the Congregation of the Blessed Sacrament, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
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